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Impermanence (annicca) and suffering in Buddhism

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By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara

The Corona virus pandemic has brought in to sharp relief the concept of impermanence (Annicca) propounded by the Lord Buddha. The on-going virulent Covid-19 pandemic which has caused immense suffering, agony, death and despair to tens of millions of people in the whole world has taught us the core teachings of the Buddha, the three characteristics (tilaakkana) of our existence in this world, namely impermanence (annicca), suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukka) and non-self or insubstantiality (annatta). Impermanence is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism which can be observed in the entire nature of the universe. All component things that is all things which arise as effect of causes, and which in turn give rise effects is embodied in the single word annicca.

Today people are living in uncertain times and no one knows exactly what will happen to our lives and lives of our loved ones, as the pandemic we are going through is unprecedented and unpredictable.

All things change, nothing ever stays the same. Everything that exits changes and transient. Change is the essence of life and essence of existence. Transience is the universal law of all phenomenal things and it teaches us nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. What is built eventually crumble and fall, whoever is born will eventually die, and what comes together will eventually separate.

We can visualise four areas of impermanence; physical, emotional, mental, and social. We can see how the physical world is changing and by the periodic changes of the seasons, aging, sickness and death. In the emotional world we can see impermanence through the constant changes of feelings and emotions as one moment we might be euphoric, happy and elated next moment feeling sad and melancholy. Mentally our ideas, thoughts and concepts change from time to time and new ideas and concepts come in to being. Lastly from the social perspective, we form new relationships, we meet new people, we separate from our dear loved once, we change our employments and getting in to new jobs, eventually we lose our loved and dear onces, etc.

In other words, contemplating on impermanence brings to the surface the dreadful truth that everything we have acquired, earned and accomplished, all our precious possessions, material things even our most intimate and cherished relationships, our loved ones inevitably succumb to time and deteriorate and cease to exist.

In one of the discourses recorded in Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha offered the following simile to explain the limited and fleeting nature of human life. “Just as a dew drop on the tip of a blade of grass will quickly vanish at sunrise and will not last long, so too Brahamin, human life like a drop of dew, it is limited, brief and fleeting and it has much suffering, full of tribulation… none who is born escape death. Therefore, given the limited and fleeting nature of human life, it becomes important for Buddhist to develop “mindfulness of death”.

King Pasenadi of Kosala at Savatthi asked Lord Buddha once “Venerable Sir, is there anyone who is born free from aging and death” then Lord Buddha replied “Oh, great King, no one who is born is free from aging and death. Even those affluent, rich, with great wealth and property, with abundant gold and silver, and abundant treasures, because they are born are not free from aging and death.”

The renowned Greek Philopser Heraclitus once declared “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. There is no static being no unchanging substratum. In his notes to the novel “Chance” one of the greatest Polish British novelists Joseph Conrad stated thus “The history of men on this earth may be summarised in one phrase of infinite poignancy “They were born, they suffered, they died”. Similarly, James brother of Jesus according to the New Testament ask “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are but a mist that appears for little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). The Teacher (Jesus) in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene declares: “All that is born, all that is created all that is composed, shall be decomposes.”

Impermanence brings us face to face with our own mortality, in the face of ravaging Covid-19 pandemic. The way things are turning out we may not live through the day. When we look around at our people, relations, possessions all will one day be gone. Lord Buddha’s last admonition to his disciples was “all conditioned things are impermanent, subject to change and strive on with diligence”.

Impermanence is closely linked to the truth of suffering which constitute the first noble truth in Buddhism. The Lord Buddha taught us that cause of human suffering and discontent is brought about by our clinging to the worldly things under the mistaken belief that they will last and endure forever which is in fact not so.

In other words, we cannot think of any object in this conditioned world that is not annicca. When we comprehend the basic truth of Impermanence (annicca), the tendency to cling on to our attachment to worldly things is bound diminish and our lives become enriched with great equanimity so that we are in a better position to let go our belief of permanence and stability of our life.

Impermanence, continually presents challenges and people are faced with various life obstacles that are often out of their control. Recognising the reality of Impermanence not only will help us to live in the present moment but also increase our ability to overcome difficulties in life.

Although Buddhism emphasizes the universality of suffering it cannot be characterised as a pessimistic religion. It is neither totally pessimistic nor totally optimistic but realistic as it not only emphasizes the truth of suffering but also suggests a means to end the suffering and gain eternal happiness.

Man has achieved great marvellous things throughout the centuries, his ingenuity and strength have enabled him to conquer space and subdue matter to his will. Yet for all his capabilities and ingenuity he still remains fragile vulnerable in the face of impermanence.

Even with the most brilliant application of modern science and technology man has not yet seen the possibility of outlawing the ephemeral nature of human life and his ultimate enemy: death

Impermance highlights the mortality and inevitabile decline of mighty leaders and their false pride how the time has brought to an end the commanding powers of great leaders in the world. When we look at the ruins of great stupas and edifices in places like Anuradhapura and pollonaruwa we can see how they have been subjected to natural process of decay with the passage of time.



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Features

TNGlive relieving boredom

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Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.

Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.

However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.

And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.

Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.

She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.

What an awesome performance.

Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.

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Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution

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The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.

Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).

 

Applicable constitutional provisions

Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.

 

Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum

Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.

The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.

The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”

A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.

When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”

In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.

Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.

However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.

 

The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils

The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.

In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.

It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.

The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.

A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.

 

 

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‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi

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There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.

Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.

Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’

In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.

“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.

“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”

Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.

“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”

A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.

In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!

In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.

Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).

“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’

Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.

“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”

In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,

She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.

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